Kirkus Star


Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin
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A sometimes improbable but nevertheless true tale of diplomacy and intrigue by bestselling author Larson (Thunderstruck, 2006, etc.).

William E. Dodd, the unlikely hero of the piece, was a historian at the University of Chicago in the early 1930s, tenured and unhappy, increasingly convinced that he was cut out for greater things than proctoring exams. Franklin Roosevelt, then in his second year in office, was meanwhile having trouble filling the ambassadorship in Berlin, where the paramilitary forces of Hitler’s newly installed regime were in the habit of beating up Americans—and, it seems, American doctors in particular, one for the offense of not giving the Nazi salute when an SS parade passed by. Dodd was offered the job, and he accepted; as Larson writes, “Dodd wanted a sinecure…this despite his recognition that serving as a diplomat was not something to which his character was well suited.” It truly was not, but Dodd did yeomanlike work, pressing for American interests while letting it be known that he did not think much of the blustering Nazis—even as, the author writes, he seems to have been somewhat blind to the intensity of anti-Semitism and was casually anti-Semitic himself. More interesting than the scholarly Dodd, whom the Nazis thought of as a musty old man, was his daughter Martha, a beauty of readily apparent sexual appetite, eagerly courted by Nazis and communists alike. The intrigues in which she was caught up give Larson’s tale, already suspenseful, the feel of a John le Carré novel. The only real demerit is that the book goes on a touch too long, though it gives a detailed portrait of a time when the Nazi regime was solidifying into the evil monolith that would go to war with the world only five years later.

An excellent study, taking a tiny instant of modern history and giving it specific weight, depth and meaning.

Pub Date: May 10th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-307-40884-6
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2011


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Kirkus Interview
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March 17, 2015

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly in Dead Wake, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. “An intriguing, entirely engrossing investigation into a legendary disaster,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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